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The Northwest Territories Act, 1875 included provisions that offered the population of the Northwest Territories the same rights to a religious education as those given to the people of Ontario when that province joined Confederation. The Act permitted territorial officials to pass laws ensuring that Catholic or Protestant minorities could establish separate schools in any district.
Laws passed in 1884 and 1885 formally established the Territories' education system, with its two components of private and public schools. However, an 1886 amendment to these laws made it impossible to open separate schools except in an existing school district. Separate schools could no longer be set up in new school districts.
In 1892 the Council of Education replaced the old Board of Education, and religious minorities were further disadvantaged within the Territorial school system. The creation of the Department of Education in 1901 did nothing to remedy the situation.
In 1905, when Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier presented a bill on the creation of the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, he dealt with the schools question by stating that school administration would be as stipulated in the British North America Act (http://laws.justice.gc.ca/en/const/index.html). The educational system would be similar to systems in Ontario and Quebec, and would allow for the creation of two parallel school systems -- one Catholic and one Protestant.
This clause was unacceptable to a large part of the Northwest Territories' population, the members of the Legislative Assembly, the press and the western clergy. Clifford Sifton, Minister of the Interior, resigned over the issue to voice his disagreement with Laurier's handling of the situation.
Laurier was forced to back down. He proposed an amendment to his own law, and the schools clause reverted to the way it had been in 1892.